Why are prairies important?

Tallgrass prairies are unique and complex ecosystems packed with many varieties of grasses, flowers, trees, birds, mammals, insects, and microorganisms. Tallgrass prairies give us many things and protect our environment.  For example:

  • Prairies produce some of the richest soil in the world. The many diverse plant and animal species in the original Iowa tallgrass prairies went through decomposition cycles for thousands of years, leading to the formation of deep, rich soil that covers most of Iowa. Prairies continue to enrich the soil today.
  • Prairie soil grows healthy crops to feed animals and provides thousands of products for people. Rich prairie soil provides nutrients and texture to grow healthy, high-yielding crops such as corn and soybeans. Corn is a tallgrass and soybeans have characteristics similar to forbs found in prairies. Farm animals consume most of the corn and soybeans and their waste products feed the soil. Iowa’s rich soil has made the state tops in agricultural production and exporting in the United States. That translates into economic support for families and communities.
  • Prairie plants improve water quality. The number one water quality problem in agricultural states such as Iowa is sediment control. The density of plants on top of the soil prevents wind erosion, and deep, complex root systems prevent water erosion. Prairie plants hold topsoil in place, which reduces the amount of soil washing into streams and rivers. Plants also act as a water filtration system, cleaning water as it passes through to underground aquifers.
  • Prairies provide habitats for several native plants and animals. As prairies disappeared across Iowa, so did several plant and animal species. Plants and animals live together in communities where they are dependent on natural resources and each other to survive. The disappearance of one species can upset an entire ecosystem. Maintaining native ecosystems such as prairies across Iowa is important to maintaining balance and harmony in our environment.  
Resources on Native Prairie Plants and Prairies:
  • Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Introduction to Iowa Native Prairie Plants (SUL 0018), 2007 (Download PDF Here)
  • Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Prairies and Native Plantings as Outdoor Classrooms (SUL 0019) (Download PDF Here)
  • Iowa Living Roadway Trust has a series of informative prairie posters and other publications. Support for the publications listed  came from the Iowa Department of Transportation Iowa Living Roadway Trust.
  • Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Iowa - A Portrait of the Land, 2000. ISBN: 0-96787-860-8.
  • Kurtz, Carl. Iowa’s Wild Places. Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press. Reprint date has not been set. ISBN 1-58729-563-6.
  • Kurtz, Carl. A Practical Guide to Prairie Reconstruction. Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2001. ISBN 0-87745-745-X.
  • Madson, John. Where the Sky Began: Land of the Tallgrass Prairie. Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2004. ISBN 0-87745-861-8.
  • Stone, Larry A. Listen to the Land. Parkersburg, Iowa: Mid-Prairie Books, 1999. ISBN 0-93120-82-X.
  • Thompson, Janette. Prairies, Forests, & Wetlands: the Restoration of Natural Landscape Communities in Iowa. Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1992. ISBN 0-87745-371-3.
  • Camp Silos (website for Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area)
  • Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Prairie City, Iowa
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